One of the subtleties in AA 12 Steps is the little important phrases contained in most of the steps. If you know about them, it shifts the focus of the step into sharper understanding. A good example is “Made a decision” the opening words in AA’s Step Three. The entire step says:
“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him.”
That’s quite a concept, especially if the reader is a newcomer to AA. What? Turn my will and life over? Seriously? I just want to stop drinking, they probably think. Reading Step 3 in the Twelve Traditions book is actually quite scary, or that’s how I found it. My sponsor advised me to only read one page of that at a time. Good Advice.
It’s really all begins with Making a Decision. From that other factors come into play naturally. This, many find, extends out to evolution of new skills about how to handle difficult situations in general. Just do it.
This one looks easy, doesn’t it? Just another one of those dumb AA slogans. Who needs it with all the talk about trauma related and brain function? Well, newcomers and those in sustained remission still need to be reminded to Easy Does It all the time. The effects of active addiction take years to improve.
Often heard in AA is the phrase “to get your brains out of hock takes 5 years.” New folks think that’s absurd, but about 4 years into the process people nod their heads “Yes, thats long it takes.”
A big motivator in early recovery is to get one’s life back together as quickly as possible. Usually that means to reach back into the past and pick up an old goal set during active addiction and feverishly work on it again. That usually doesn’t go well. After a while, new circumstances gently guide people on to a new path, one that fits a sober lifestyle and a clear mind.
Easy Does It is profound. Taking the time to think and figure out what is really happening and what our part in it makes a good beginning. Giving yourself the time to ponder a bit on what is the right thing to do starts the process of stabilizing a new life.
Not acting impulsively, and then having to undo it all is very helpful. Taking time to consider the options, seek some guidance from members of AA, pray on it … these pay off in less stress and a more pleasant life in recovery.
Another one of those stupid slogans. Live and Let Live is suggested when a person is caught up in active resentment, or unable to figure out what to do next or is stuck in a situation based in the past. Live and Let Live.
Who want to hear that? When you are all fired up, polishing your rant and justifying with precise rationale …. who wants to hear Live and Let Live? Nobody. But it’s short and sweet and gets to the point. We recovering people can’t afford anger or resentments. We are just not capable of managing them well – in early recovery or in long term recovery.
Slogans are so perfect, work so well. Shame they appear to be out of favor. Live and Let Live allows us to focus on recovery and all it’s amazing benefits.
Easy Does it. Another of the AA slogans that guide new folks into sobriety.
It comes in handy when someone first begins a recovery journey and tries to untangle all the damaged relationships and predictable life crises at once. Easy Does it.
Regardless of all the fancy, scientific jargon about the effects of prolonged, deliberate abuse of brain and body it comes down to people in early recovery can’t handle what they need to do. Yet. So constant reminders to slow down and take things one at a time is helpful. Therefore, Easy Does It.
People in early recover all have amazing abilities to tell stories, sell the concept, and do whatever is necessary to obtain booze or drugs, all paid for in hard experience. This they know well. But handling relationships and big problems not so much. So they approach straightening out life with the same frantic concentrated focus and it doesn’t work. They relapse and don’t know why it didn’t work.
Easy Does It. They work with a sponsor to sort out priorities. Then the sponsor reminds that their priority is only staying clean and sober. Easy Does It.
Years ago where we were going was obvious. Not so much anymore. What we have to do and how to do it appears complex most days. How to keep it simple? Just Keep it Simple.
Keep it Simple is another slogan often heard in AA. Particularly valid for those in early recovery, it never really goes out of style. With practice, the phrase may penetrate consciousness just enough to stop the monkey mind short. Then with a little perspective gleaned from the slogan, sorting out what the main issue is gets much easier.
When I look for answers about how to help people in early recovery, first I look at AA. Because of the 20 or so years I have spent in the addiction treatment field, I believe I can see distinct differences between mental health’s version and AA’s suggestions. I look at AA for answers first.
In this case, examining the effects of established chaotic behavior and thinking, I see the basic five AA slogans as time tested, effective clues. These slogans used to be displayed at every AA meeting. They are not as much in favor anymore. That’s a shame, as they were excellent to teach newcomers to how to handle early recovery.
The basic slogans are: First Things First, Easy Does It, Think Think Think, But for the Grace of God and Live and Let Live. They are deceptively simple, and able to be recalled by people who are only beginning to regain their memories and thought processes.
Anecdotally, many recovering people will agree that their mental faculties were definitely impaired in very early recovery. They recall difficulty in reading, memory, speech and inability to sleep that affects effective thinking and communication. This was understood and assumed when AA members counseled newcomers.
Their suggestion was inevitably to use The Slogans. First Things First helps people set priorities – with sobriety as the main goal. Easy Does It reminds newcomers that they can’t solve all their problems at once. Think Think Think is traditionally displayed upside down to emphasize to minimize impulsive behavior, But for the Grace of God encourages new people to reflect on their relief and gratitude that they are no longer using and begins the process of developing a personal relationship with their Higher Power. Live and Let Live is a quick reminder to avoid getting tangled up in other people’s issues, creating a distraction that can be a trigger to relapse.
Most people absorbed and applied the old timers sage suggestion – to use the slogans. For them, when dilemmas arose the slogans might pop into their mind giving an immediate option to making a choice of what to do. They worked.
One of the least talked about factors in early recovery is elimination of chaos. Chaos is a necessary strategy in active addiction. In that phase, everything in daily life that is not completely necessary is eliminated in favor of accomplishing the goal. Especially in opioid addiction, the goal is pretty much getting the drug on time.
Not that alcoholics and other addicts don’t know there is a time limit before uncomfortable feelings and thoughts will intervene, but opioid addicts appear to have fine tuning. The chaos occurs when the pieces of life that need to be attended to to provide stable living are put aside and new, more immediate, goals take precedence.
This snowballs over a period of time so that the business of real life is ignored and the business of managing the craving is all there is. This takes place in gradual ((or maybe not so gradual) processing until the day comes that as soon as he or she opens their eyes in the morning the focus is getting the next dose, or drink. It is a hallmark of active addiction.
So, when the person comes to the point that, voluntarily or involuntarily, they cease using the drug, the lifeskills they have devised are still active. They are used to this kind of focus, and because of that skill very unskilled in managing the ebb and flow of daily normal life. They cannot avoid chaos, and chaos leads back to the substance.
Therefore the need to manage chaos becomes prominent in early recovery.